From Google to GE, pretty much every major tech company has made a play for smart home, and it's only a matter of time before Apple gets involved. Just what would Cupertino's version of connectivity look like?
Well, thanks to patent filings and a few early news reports, we have some clues. It's likely that Apple will win customers over with an intuitive user interface instead of unleashing any groundbreaking new hardware.
Just yesterday, the Financial Times reported that Apple is set to debut a new smart home control platform at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), scheduled for June 2 in San Francisco. Apple has yet to confirm these rumors, but it's likely that the new connected home system will rely on the iPhone and Apple TV to control "certified" smart home products.
A new Apple TV and iPhone are already in the works and could include new technology that allows for improved smart home control. A patent filing hints at a system that can automatically respond to a user's location in order to intelligently control lights, thermostats, security systems, kitchen appliances, sound systems, and other devices.
If Apple does make an announcement next week, it could bring yet another standard to the ever-growing world of smart home technology.
Google already made waves when it acquired smart thermostat manufacturer Nest. GE and Quirky have partnered on new products, including small appliances like a smart air conditioner. And Belkin's WeMo has expanded from light switches to connected crock pots.
Add to that the players who come to the table with long histories in the home appliance, climate control, and lighting markets. Whirlpool, Samsung, and LG all have smart home platforms that control their own large appliances, and Bosch recently unveiled a smart home system that allows for true cross-platform connectivity. Philips has its Hue LED lighting system, and Honeywell also makes smart thermostats.
It's clear that Apple is entering an already crowded market, just like it did when the iPhone first came out in 2007 amidst established competition from Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and PalmOS.
But there's a big difference between smartphones and home appliances: lifespan. It's easy and relatively cheap to upgrade a phone. Refrigerators and security systems, however, tend to stick around a little longer before being replaced.
That's why it's likely that Apple-compatible products will be initially be limited to affordable accessories, like garage door openers, smart plugs, and LED lights. That way, people can get used to controlling their homes from their Apple products without having to undertake major renovations.
As hardware manufacturers add Apple compatibility, consumers will be more likely to replace home appliances, furnaces, and water heaters with Apple-certified devices, which will soon become ubiquitous. It remains to be seen whether manufacturers will bend to Apple's rules, or if Apple will embrace some existing smart home platforms. The latter seems unlikely, however, as Apple is famous for setting its own, rigorous standards.
One thing is for sure: Whether it's phones, cars, or home appliances, the world is sure to pay attention whenever Apple gets involved.
Hero Image: Flickr user "technamyte" (CC BY 2.0)